This month's newsletter has some practicing tips to help you set and keep goals and keep your playing move in the right direction. BurghSong returns to Sunburst Saturday Nov 19th, plus more details on our recitals, practice session and picture day.
In this month's newsletter we're announcing our Winter Recital Concert, practice session and halloween party! Read about our past recital concerts and our upcoming practice session and picture day, plus piano instructor Lucas Bowman is under the instructor spotlight...
Last week we concluded our 2016 Summer Camp Season with Just Press Play, our recording studio camp. Over the course of 5 action packed days our campers worked in teams of Producers, Engineers and Musicians to craft original songs from conception to mixed and mastered recordings. Some tracks were put together via experimentation with sampling records or video game sound effects, while others came out of a more traditional rock band jam. Overall everyone worked really hard and did a great job, check out their recordings and let us know what you think!
Thanks to everyone for being a part of our Loop Creation Station at Handmade Arcade. Check out what we made together!
Our Loop Creation Station was about experimenting with different sounds, trying new instruments and collaborating with others. Over the course of the afternoon we recorded dozens of musicians young and old, professional and completely new to making music. Our performers chose an instrument and played a few notes as we looped and layered them on the computer. The results are amazing! We've split them up by approximate time as well as into a sort of "megamix" of the whole afternoon:
We've just completed our 'Hit the Studio' summer camp and we're eager to share the results. At the beginning of the week the kids were given a challenge: to create an album in a week with each of them producing a track.
1. The producer is in charge. Everybody got to spend some amount of everyday producing during which time the studio was theirs. All other musicians were at their beck and call and pledged to use their skills to help fulfill the producer's vision.
2. You have to finish something. Everyone had their own style of production, some were content to work on the same song, perfecting it across the entire week while some wanted to start a new song everyday. Producers were allowed to experiment with as many ideas as they liked as long as they finished something.
3. One live source. Partly we wanted to make sure everyone learned how to mic a source and adjust a preamp, partly we just have some new mics and wanted to use them. Everything had to have something "out of the box" (which means an actual sound recorded with actual microphones as opposed to something generated in the computer).
(BTW: if you got a cd from us the track order is different*)
1. Long Day Blues
Producer: Aidan Lead Vocal: Neila Keyboard: Zack Drums: Aidan Bass: Shane Faux trumpet: Nina Electric Guitar: Luc
2. Magic Don't Scare Me
Producer: Luc Lead Vocal: Neila & Nina Electric Guitar: Luc Drums: Aidan Bass: Luc
3. Its Not The Same
Producer: Nathan Lead Vocal: Nathan Electric and Acoustic Guitar: Alex Bass Guitar: Jonathan Drums and Drum Editing: Shane
4. Quack Goes the Robot
Producer: Aidan Lead Vocal: Neila & Nina Organ: Zack Drums: Aidan Synth Bass, Synth Lead: Zack Guitar: Alex
Ever seen someone figure out how to play a song just by hearing it? Its not magic, its music theory! You don't have to be a virtuoso musician to do it, it just takes practice like anything else. Use this guide to get started figuring out your favorites for any instrument...
A great many students come to us with a specific song in mind and ask how to play it. Our job at that point is to put the music on, listen to it with them, figure out a way for them to play it based on their ability and show it to them. The more songs someone tries to figure out, the faster and smoother they can make the transition from hearing to playing and the same goes for students–they learn songs faster.
Watching someone conjure the chords of a song seemingly from nowhere can be a little mystifying. I remember being in awe of it myself the first time I saw someone repeat a song that they had only just heard for the first time. The truth is that its not that hard, its just different and involves a skill set that has very little to do with pushing down frets, keys, whatever and everything to do with listening very closely and comparing sounds.
Literally and figuratively the key to figuring out songs by ear is the key. The key is the one note in the song that all of the other notes relate to and want to resolve to. The simplest way to describe it and find it is to put a song on, pick one note on your instrument and just keep playing that one note over any part of the song. Some notes will sound good some moments and tense others, but in most cases the key will just sound good the whole time. There are only 12 notes to try, so keep trying until you think you’ve found that one note that sounds right.
Its best to start with songs that sound easy, things with basic chord changes like Bob Dylan or Taylor Swift (no Rush and steer clear of The Beatles, they are deceptively complex). Also best to start with something that is in a major key (this just means something that sounds upbeat, not sad).
Listen closely to the song and try to figure out how many chords there are in each section. Most pop songs are in 4/4 time which means there are 4 beats to a measure and usually 4 measures (or 8) before things start to repeat. See if you can identify a pattern of chords, try to figure out when they change and when the whole thing repeats even if you don’t know what the chords are.
Next you need to figure out what the possible chords are. This is where a little music theory becomes quite handy. Look at the following chart:
Don’t be afraid, theory is sweet.
If you don’t know how to play some of the chords on your instrument you can use a capo for guitar, or a transpose feature on a keyboard to change things to C, G or another easy one. We should write an article about that (this will become a link when we do).
Remember what key we’re in? The first 6 chords in that key are likely going to be the chords that show up in any given song. Keep in mind there are tons of exceptions to this, but lets just roll with that assumption for the moment. Use a little trial and error using these chords with the music in different configurations, can you tell when you hit one? Can you tell the major chords from the minor chords? Listen closely!
When you think you’ve got it, try to mimic the rhythm that you hear. Its more important to play something simple that captures the feel of the music rather than exactly what your particular instrument is doing on the recording. We could talk a lot more about this particular topic but for now just keep it simple and change chords at the right time.
Move onto the next section of the song and keep going until you’ve got the whole thing. It will take a long time at first and the trial and error will be mostly error, but as you get better at listening you will be able to do it in seconds.
During last weeks open hours, a student asked the zillion dollar question: what makes a great guitarist?
It was one that you’d think you hear more often than you do. Also, it was one who’s answer (to me) is tricky to pin down yet somehow blatantly obvious. It came after a long afternoon of watching videos of people nailing the fast part of the Sweet Child-O-Mine solo on youtube, many of them (including this guy) do it justice. We were talking about how meticulous all of these players had been in learning this solo note for note, especially the fast part which Slash himself would probably improvised. To learn something that fast, most people would need to slow it way down, memorize the notes, and then play it 8,000 times before reaching top speed. Now perhaps it was just my anti-G3 sentiments coming out, but I had to insert my opinion that the fast part was to me, the least interesting part of the solo. Slash was great not because he could play the fast part, but because he came up with the soaring melodic part before and after.
To me a great guitarist is one who develops a unique voice on the instrument. Something that makes you say either “woah, thats guitar?” or “woah, I know thats guitar, but I wish I would have thought to play it like that.” Naturally all of the players that embody these qualities have clearly spent a lot of time working on their guitar playing, and in doing so some of them develop amazing speed and technical ability. I like to think of those things as a by-product of the work it takes to really learn how to make the thing speak. Playing a blazing flurry of notes replicated from Slash may be impressive on YouTube, but doesn’t really tell people who YOU are as a guitarist, it mostly reminds them of how great Slash is.
Here are some of my current guitar heroes who I feel embody this idea and are perhaps under appreciated as axe-men and axe-women:
Rodrigo y Gabriela – An instrumental guitar duo combining flamenco with heavy metal? Why not? Somehow these two manage to make classical music accessible to a pop audience. Listen to their creative re-working of Stairway to Heaven, or the original Tamacun.
Annie Clark AKA St Vincent - Her guitar work on Cruel falls into the “thats guitar?” Catagory. From the faux trumpet-esque sounds on the chorus, to the layered wall of harmonized muted plucking towards the end, to the falling apart whammy pedal solo, this is one of those songs that just makes you wonder what the guitar can’t do.
Adam Jones of Tool - In a genre where the guitar playing is all about being the fastest loudest most bombastic thing out there, Jones takes another approach. His rhythmic riffing shelves shredding solos in favor of hypnotic repeated phrases, tribal chugging and otherworldly ambience. Jambi is a good example.
Ryan Adams released his 14th album on 9/9/14 titled "Ryan Adams" on Pax-Am Records. Fourteen records is a lot for any musician, let alone Adams who is only 39. However, he has managed to make his best sounding and most accessible album to date.
The story of Adams' self titled record starts with Pax Am studios, his brand new, vintage (analog) studio that houses all of his instruments, recording consoles and pinball machines. Pax Am originated when Adams was in high school, when he used to pass out mix tapes of his songs with the tag "Pax Am records" on them. As he puts it, "no one listened". Originally slated to release a Glynn Johns (Led Zeppelin, The Who, Bob Dylan) produced record, Adams scrapped the project at the last minute due to his excitement over his new studio that was sitting idle, un-used. I'd say he made the right decision. Not only is every song great (something Adams has struggled with in the past), but the style and sonic structure of the album is incredibly refreshing and vibrant. Leaning against a heavy 80's vibe (think Tom Petty's Damn The Torpedos meets The Replacements) Adams hits a homerun on all 10 tracks. His voice has never sounded better and all of the best aspects of what he does are present in this record: great songwriting, masterful production and stellar arrangements. One of my favorite aspects of the record is how his studio weaves its own narrative and sound through the whole record. It becomes a powerful instrument.
The guitars on this record sound great. With heavy use of a bigsby equipped Walnut Gibson ES-335 and a healthy dose of reverb, Adams lets the six string be the star of the show. An intentional guitar technique that Adams uses are arpeggios. He uses arpeggiated open chords with a capo underneath on a majority of the chorus' and it thickens up the sound to give the album another thread of continuity. The rest of Adams' band is top notch and the drumming by Jeremy Stacey shouldn't go unnoticed. Subtle, but very effective.
Standout tracks: (all of them)–but really, Feels Like Fire, Am I Safe and Gimme Something Good are all worth an initial listen.
If you read the About section, you may recall my experience the night I discovered the guitar, let me flesh out the scene a bit more: The guitar was an travel size Ovation (not a recommended axe for a beginner) that had been sitting in the corner of my room in its box for 4 months, I think I was initially turned off by the wooden leaves on the top. This was a period of my life in which I was spending a great amount of time on the computer, mostly downloading songs off of Napster and listening to those while downloading more. Naturally when I finally had the inkling to grab the guitar my first move was not to go buy a book of sheet music, or look up a teacher and sign up for lessons, it was to hit the web.
Like most beginner players, I started with no aspirations of becoming a great (or even competent) guitarist. I had one goal and one goal only: to play Walking Contradiction from my second favorite Green Day album Insomniac. Had it meant that I had to spend weeks learning open chord shapes and C Major scale patterns, none of which were in the song, I would have certainly stopped there. But as it was on this fateful night, I discovered Tablature.
It seemed too good to be true, a notation system that took thirty seconds to learn? I couldn’t believe my eyes, or my ears as I quickly plunked out the bass line of the song I thought I would be months from recreating. That tiny amount of instant gratification lead to an almost instant obsession, Napster hummed along in the background downloading songs for me to recreate on the guitar. It was a new day, everything was free and anything was possible.
About 3 Months later I was in a band, taking regular guitar lessons, and soaking up everything about the guitar I possibly could. I was also still learning songs from tab, although I had graduated from the simplest bass lines to more complex pieces of music, taking on ridiculous challenges like Classical Gas and the Freebird solo.
When I went back later on to learn to read music on the guitar I found it quite satisfying. The level of detail that can be conveyed on paper is amazing, and makes Tablature look like what is: a mere chart of where to put your fingers. The skills one gains from reading and understanding sheet music are invaluable, and you don’t get them from reading Tabs. However, it takes a level of patience that only the most exuberant beginner can put forth. I for one, would have never gotten there without my good friend, the tab.
Starting things is easy, its sticking with them and making them part of what you do thats hard. Many people see guitarists and think “yeah I could do that,” only to pick it up and find that after a few hours of plunking around, their fingers hurt and they haven’t yet reached rock star status. While there’s no magic potion to become a phenom overnight, here are a number of things that a beginner can do to get over the hump:
1. Leave the guitar out
Cases are wonderful things in a rainstorm or in an overcrowded backstage loading area, but at home they have a habit of standing between you and your guitar. I know, I know, if you really want to play bad enough you will make the extra effort to unzip the case, but you may do so less often. Leaving the guitar out of its case makes it a whole lot easier to grab it and strum a few chords when you get the chance, and turns playing and practicing into the stuff of everyday life rather than a once a week chore.
2. Tune the guitar
While this may seem obvious, it so happens that I’ve asked a number of my students how they tune at home after a few months of lessons, only to hear that they don’t. While tuning, especially without a tuner, may at first take as long as the practice session itself, don’t let it fall out of your routine. The most important reason to tune every time you play, is that it makes what you do sound good! How are you supposed to stay interested without enjoying the sounds you are creating?
3. Practice frequently
The usual saying may be quality over quantity, but for the new guitarist, its the other way around. Learning the guitar is the process of building muscle memory. Pretend you want to get in shape, do you go to the gym for 7 hours just once a week? Of course not. Muscle memory works much the same way, shorter more frequent sessions will help you develop skills much faster and easier than trying to do it all in one night.
4. Set clearly defined goals
This tends to be where some people start to fall off, they’ve learned their basic open chords, done a bit of chord switching and strumming, and made it through a song or two but are lost as far as where to go next. By having a goal such as “I want to be able to play the funky strat riff at the end of Billie Jean by my girlfriends birthday party” you know what your working towards, and exactly when you’ve arrived. Sometimes this can take a bit more soul searching than some beginners signed up for, just remember when you accomplish a goal, you set another. You don’t have to have all of the answers right away, just pick something that interests you and when you get there, keep going.
5. Don’t sweat it
Music can be the greatest and most fun thing in the world. It can also be very frustrating. The key for those starting out is to take it slow, learn easy songs within your grasp, and enjoy them. For those that enjoy a challenge theres a big one up ahead, but laying the groundwork is just as much about making guitar playing a fun habit than it is about getting that F chord to not buzz. Once your hooked, your hooked, and tackling twister-esque chord shapes and learning lightning fast runs feels much more like play than work, just take your time and enjoy the ride!